CLEVELAND — Larry Speakes, a native of Merigold and press secretary for President Ronald Reagan (1981-1987), died Jan. 10 at his home in Cleveland. Speakes began his long career in the newspaper business after graduating from the University of Mississippi. He served as editor of the Oxford Eagle in 1961 and as managing editor of the Bolivar Commercial from 1962-1966. From 1966-1968 he worked as general manager and editor of Progress Publishers.
In 1968, Speakes moved to Washington, D.C., and served as press secretary to Sen. James Eastland. In this position, Speakes also worked as spokesman for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Speakes was also the head coordinator of the senator’s reelection campaign in 1972. In 1974, the White House called Speakes and asked him to serve as a staff assistant and soon he became the press secretary to the special counsel to the President at the height of the Watergate scandal. Upon President Richard Nixon’s resignation, President Gerald Ford appointed Speakes to be assistant press secretary to the President. Speakes also served as Sen. Bob Dole’s press secretary during his unsuccessful vice-presidential run with Ford.
After briefly serving as Ford’s personal press secretary in 1977, Speakes moved into the private sector as vice president of the international public relations firm of Hill and Knowlton in Washington. During the 1980 presidential campaign, he worked on the staff of the Reagan-Bush team, helping to reorganize the press operation, eventually becoming deputy spokesman for the President-elect during the transition.
When Reagan’s press secretary James Brady was shot in the assassination attempt on Reagan, Brady was unable to return to work and though he retained the title of “press secretary” for the duration of Reagan’s term, in Brady’s absence, Speakes took over the job.
In 1981, Speakes was appointed deputy assistant to the President and deputy press secretary.
In 1983, Speakes was appointed assistant to the President and principal deputy press secretary and remained in that post until January 1987 when he resigned. Speakes then moved to New York and became a vice president at Merrill Lynch.
Speakes wrote a best seller book in the late 1980s titlerd “Speaking Out: The Reagan Presidency from Inside the White House.”
In 1987, he was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by Reagan. He returned to Washington in 1988 and held positions as vice president of communications and public relations with Northern Telecom and also the U. S. Postal Service from which he retired in 2008.